Baking Bread by cmlang


									by: Cory L. Kemp

Holiday activities are stirring among us. The weather is easing into a crisp chilliness that is
comfortable in calling out our warmer coats and scarves. Balanced against homes warmed by
evening lighted windows and rich stews bubbling on the stove, we are taking our first steps into
the time of year that beckons us to enter the mysteries of faith, hope and new life itself. Some of
my favorite childhood memories are from this time of year in my mother's Saturday morning
kitchen. My mother is a practiced and skilled baker, and she made good use of her creative gift,
manifesting cookies, cakes, pies and sweet rolls that make my mouth water and my mind drift
with remembered pleasure even as I write these words. Any Saturday could include one or more
of these items, and Christmas holiday preparation particularly focused on fruit cake,cookies,
sweet rolls, and pies. (The abundance of fruit cake jokes in our culture is lost on me because I
have eaten good fruit cake all my life.) But the staple of all these baking days was bread. Baking
bread tied all these Saturdays together into one grand, fond memory of a kitchen filled with
warm scents, laughter, creativity and love.

My mother learned the fine art of bread baking from her mother-in-law, who lived across the
alley behind our house. These lessons were solidified before my memory began, but I witnessed
the patterns and rhythm of a defined plan that always exhibited specific, consistent results. Each
ingredient was added in order, integrated into the process in the way that would ensure its proper
place with its companion components, and the the kneading would begin. Once completed, the
dough, covered gently with a cotton dish cloth, was set into the warmed oven to raise. Once
risen, the dough was then punched down, divided among the readied loaf pans and set back to
the task of raising again before the official baking began. While the creation process evoked a
warm, satisfying aroma, the end result, pulled from the oven with round golden crusts, looking
like works of art, wafted of contented abundance like nothing else imaginable. We barely let it
cool enough to slice it, slather it with butter and taste it melt in our mouths.

On rare occasion, only one that I can remember, this beautiful scene was halted by the dismal
performance of yeast that was simply unable to complete its work. No matter how gifted, skilled
or practiced the baker, if the yeast doesn't work, the bread doesn't rise, and you are left looking at
some very heavy, chewy loaves of mismatched ingredients. The same can be said if the yeast is
not left to do its work once blended with the other ingredients. Too little kneading creates huge
piles of raw dough, unshaped, uncontrollable and impossible to bake. Too much kneading tells
the yeast its services are no longer required, and perfectly good bread gives up the fight and falls
as flat as its sibling which came to the table unable to rise at all. It is a delicate balance, this
infusion of yeast into the process of baking bread, and how it is handled once in the mix makes
all the difference in the success of the end product as it is removed from the oven.

It is no surprise, then, that Jesus chose to use this image to challenge his followers to ponder a
new understanding of God's kingdom. "And again he said, 'To what should I compare the
kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour
until all of it was leavened." (Luke 13:21) Interesting that bread making hasn't changed in its
basic form in over two thousand years. Interesting too, that the woman in Jesus' parable did not
force the bread into submission, rush it to move more quickly than would be appropriate to
achieve a healthy result, or change it into something it wasn't designed to be or do. In short, the
woman did her part, then let the yeast rise to the occasion, doing what yeast was intended to do
for the bread to become bread.

Fortunately, God is a very practiced and skilled baker, one who is acquainted with the mysteries
of the powerful activity of yeast, and with the grace of well-placed faith that, left to its natural
devices, will do its work, in its time.

This article was posted on November 17, 2005

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